Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Leontyne Price

Madame Butterfly: Piangi? Perché? ... Un bel dì vedremo (1), Tu? Piccolo Iddio (2), Tosca: Vissi díarte (3), Manon Lescaut: In quelle trine morbide (4), Sola, perduta, abbandonata (5), Turandot: Signore, ascolta! (6), Tu che di gel sei cinta (7), Suor Angelica: Senza mamma (8), La Rondine: Ore dolci e divine (9), Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (10), La Bohème: Addio, donde lieta uscì (11), Madame Butterfly: Bimba, bimba, non piangere .. Bimba degli occhi ... Vogliatemi bene (12), Manon Lescaut: Oh, sarò la più bella! Tu, tu, amore? (13), Madama Butterfly: Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio (14, live recording)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Ariadne auf Naxos: Es gib ein Reich (15), Die ägyptische Helena: Helenís aria (16), Salome: Interlude, Finale (17), Die Frau ohne Schatten: The Princessís awakening scene (18), Der Rosenkavalier: The Marschallinís monologue (19), Guntram: Fassí ich sie bang (20), Lieder: Allerseelen, op.10/8, Schlagende Hertzen, op.29/2, Freundliches Vision, op.48/1, Wie sollten wir geheim, op.19/4 (21)
Leontyne Price (soprano), Patricia Clark (soprano) (18), Rosalind Elias (mezzo-soprano) (12), Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano) (14), Placido Domingo (tenor) (13), Richard Tucker (tenor) (12), David Garvey (piano) (21), Boston Symphony Orchestra (16, 17), London Symphony Orchestra (13, 15), Metropolitan Orchestra (14), New Philharmonia Orchestra (4, 5, 9, 11, 18-20), RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra (8, 12), Rome Opera Orchestra (1-3, 6, 7, 10)/Fausto Cleva (15), Oliviero De Fabritiis (1-3, 6, 7, 10), Edward Downes (4, 5, 9, 11), Erich Leinsdorf (12, 16-20), James Levine (14), Francesco Molinari Pradelli (8), Nello Santi (13)
Recorded 1959-1982

RCA Artistes Répertoires RED SEAL 74321 886 872 [2 CDs: 62:54+66:25]


"Recorded 1959-1982" it says blandly; yet with any artist Ė and singers above all Ė we surely have a right to know if we are listening to early, middle or late work, whether we should be rejoicing in the first blossoming of the artistís voice or whether we should be making allowances for the passing of time. Whoever compiled this anthology must have had some agenda in his mind, since he has given us excerpts from "Madame Butterfly" from three different sources (the Leinsdorf items are from a complete recording so why not just quarry that?); but the backroom boys had another agenda on their table and the accompanying material is miserable in the extreme. I presume the live recording under Levine must be the one from 1982. It sounds like one of those typical "gala occasions" where ageing stars stand at opposite corners of the hall and bawl at each other over an inattentive orchestra. You can hear that the voice had kept much of its opulence but otherwise the thing is best passed over in silence.

These recordings also bring together a number of philosophies about how best to record a voice and orchestra. The extracts under De Fabritiis come from an LP released in 1962 and are somewhat surprising for their date with an almost disconcertingly natural balance. No attempt is made to bring out the voice which reaches us (and occasionally doesnít) from the midst of a dinosaur-sized orchestra spread around a vast hall. The original performances may have sounded this way but itís different when you can see the singer: the art of the recording engineer is to aid the listenerís ear without his becoming aware of it. The Rome Opera Orchestra obviously knew its Puccini inside out but the conductor makes no attempt to bring any lift to the proceedings; itís lush, plush and shapeless. Oliviero De Fabritiis (1902-1982) did some good work (including the 1938 "Tosca" with Gigli) but maybe heíd reached his sell-by date by 1962. Still, it is worth hearing Price. Flitting back to these recordings after the later ones under Downes (the CD planner sees that we do this several times) one is struck by an almost virginal, girlish purity in the voice, which nevertheless soon reveals its opulence and burnished depth.

A very much more helpful balance is achieved in the extracts under Downes, who offers the singer the fullest collaboration. This means, basically, giving her all the space she needs so that her rich tones get round the music without sounding unwieldy, and at the same time tactfully keeping things going so that tension does not sag as it did with De Fabritiis. The not-so-common aria "Ore dolci e divine" from "La Rondine", taken as a halting "valse triste", is particularly gorgeous.

Fears that Francesco Molinari Pradelli (1911-1996) might be as dead on his feet as De Fabritiis are fortunately unfounded. Here we meet another recording philosophy, more typical of its time (is this the one from 1959?); the voice is spotlighted with the orchestra well behind. In view of the fact that Price was sometimes held to have made a luscious sound without more than dutiful attention to the words, itís interesting to note that, heard close up, she actually seems to be biting on her consonants pretty strongly.

The outstanding item on the Puccini disc is the extended sequence from the complete 1962 "Butterfly". It can be heard that Richard Tucker was no longer a young man (he was 49 with almost 20 years of heavyweight roles behind him) but he offers many more honeyed tones than jaded ones. The real hero is Leinsdorf, under whom singers and orchestra breathe as one person, and who finds the exact meeting-point between forward movement and flexibility, allowing the music to grow in long waves that surge inexorably to an overwhelming climax. This is great Puccini conducting, and the following extract under the more-than-able Nello Santi brings us to earth with a bump.

Most of the Strauss disc has Leinsdorf at the helm, but first a word about the "Ariadne" scene, which contrasts strikingly with Priceís later version in the complete set under Solti. This latter is considerably tauter, with attempts at a detailed type of interpretation which might have become a lighter voice à la Schwarzkopf but which here sound ungainly and uncomfortable. The closing stages are particularly unpleasant, little more than noise for the sake of noise. How strange that such a distinguished conductor should have forced a voice to go against its own nature. Under the far more sensitive baton of Fausto Cleva, Price has all the time she needs to make her points: a notable, if unusual, Strauss interpreter.

Whether in Boston or in London, Leinsdorf proves as understanding and perceptive in Strauss as in Puccini, never more so than in the Marschallinís monologue. This is considerably more spacious than either Reining or Schwarzkopf in the classic versions under Erich Kleiber and Karajan. Schwarzkopf in particular goes in for a lot of vocal characterisation which verges on the mannered while both conductors keep their orchestra under a roseate glow, avoiding very clear definition. Price relies much more on singing the music, and allowing her own rich tones to tell the story, while Leinsdorf profits from the extra space to give a razor-sharp, Mozartian elegance to the orchestral writing, with some weird and wonderful glissandos from the strings. I found this quite remarkable and very much regret that it seems to be from a disc of extracts not a complete recording of the opera.

The compilation closes with four lieder. With the best will in the world, when a voice accustomed to filling an opera house and to riding out an orchestra in full cry sings chamber music, itís difficult to avoid the feeling that a sledgehammer is being taken to crack a nut, or that the voice is a blunter instrument than it seemed in its natural habitat. A penny-in-the-slot reaction, but I find it is true here, where thrilling moments alternate with an excessive reliance on sheer heft.

If Iíve picked quite a lot of holes in this offering, it remains true that this is one of the great voices of the 20th century. She is the ideal singer for those who view opera as a display of whopping big voices and one of the few whose high notes do not leave me wondering if the composer might not have profitably written the whole thing a tone or so lower. There was probably more to her, but I doubt if a set like the present one is the best way to appreciate that.

Christopher Howell



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